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Wednesday 22 May 2019
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Fran Baker-Witt CEO, Effingham Health System

story by Cindy Reid
photos by Shuman Fine Art Photography
A few years back, Effingham Health System (EHS) embarked on a transformational journey, best described by CEO Fran Baker-
Witt when she says, “We are redefining healthcare—close to home.”
What does this mean for the people of Effingham County, and how are they delivering on that promise? We spoke with
Mrs.Baker-Witt to learn more about the changes that have taken place in the past year and the vision she has for the future of
our locally based, non-profit, healthcare system. First, Mrs. Baker-Witt explains that transformation means examining and
changing, where necessary,every patient service and interaction across the multi-tiered healthcare system. Throughout that
process, empowering patients to take an active role in their own health and well-being, while assuring the best possible health
outcomes for all patients.
2018 Highlights
Four-Star Rating
Perhaps the best measure of success to-date comes from the patients themselves. For two years in a row Effingham Health
System is the only hospital in the Greater Savannah Area (Chatham, Effingham, Bryan and Bulloch counties), to receive a four-
star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and has once again been named a “Top Hospital in Georgia”
based on the quality of care EHS provides patients.
Effingham Health System was also voted “Best Hospital in the Coastal Empire” in the “2018 Best of the Best” reader poll,
sponsored by Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. “The patient experience is extremely important to us,” says Mrs.
Baker-Witt. “We are truly honored by this award because it shows us that our patients and our community recognize the
transformation in progress at Effingham Health System.” Effingham Health System was also a finalist in two other categories,
Best Emergency Room and Best Nursing Home.
Da Vinci X Robotic-Assisted Surgery
One of Mrs. Baker-Witt’s goals is to attract the finest specialty medical care in the region to Effingham. When it comes to
surgery, she explains, that means providing surgeons with the right tools. EHS recently added the da Vinci X system robotic for
assisting in minimally invasive surgery. The state-of-the-art system (no settling for an older model, Mrs. Baker-Witt points out)
is already attracting highly-respected surgeons to Effingham Health System. Because the high-tech system allows specially
trained surgeons to operate through a few small incisions, with enhanced vision and precision,
patients can benefit from faster recovery times.
PARAMED Community Outreach
Another goal of transformation is developing community outreach programs that improve patient health outcomes.
The first of these outreach programs, launched in 2018, is Effingham Health System’s PARAMED. CEO Fran Baker- Witt says,
“PARAMED allows us to reach out to patients in the community to help them manage chronic diseases.” Management of
diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, can decrease the need for emergency care, and increase life expectancy. Effingham
Health System (EHS) is helping to fill the gap between providers and their patients by providing health and wellness checks by
an RN, a certified Paramedic, or an EMT, in the patient’s home, for referred patients who are a fit for the program. “The team
actually goes to the patient’s home, and they may take their blood pressure or a glucose reading, whatever is necessary for the
patients’ well-being,” explains Mrs. Baker-Witt.
The PARAMED team seeks to understand the underlying issues a patient is experiencing that impact compliance with their
physician’s treatment plan. That often means connecting them with community resources that can help fulfill specific needs.
“This is a win-win for our patients and community, which is what it is all about,” explains Mrs. Baker-Witt. “PARAMED helps us
deliver the best possible health outcomes for these patients, reducing ER visits and hospital admissions. “
PARAMED works strictly on a referral basis from medical providers, Effingham Health System’s ER, local EMS, and EHS
patient advocates. Priority is given for high-risk patients who struggle the most to maintain control. Fewer visits to the ER,many
of which are not covered by insurance, will also help Effingham Health System reduce unreimbursed costs for care. Mrs. Baker-
Witt says, “We are keeping patients from an EMS ER situation—due to medical instability—by keeping patients healthy in their
own home.”
The program was initially sponsored by a Rural Hospital Stabilization Project Grant from the Georgia Department of
Community Health.
TELEMED Expansion
Following a successful pilot program in 2017, Effingham Health System’s TELEMED expanded to include four local
elementary schools for the 2018-19 school year. The school-based telemedicine program allows parents to opt in to have their
children seen by an EHS provider during school hours. Working through the school nurse, the physician or advanced
practitioner examines the child remotely through a special, secure, computer network—complete with high-tech ear
thermometer and a high-definition camera. The examining physician or practitioner can make a diagnosis and call in
prescriptions for the parents to pick up. Parents have the option to be present for the visit, but it is not necessary. Either way the
school nurse will keep parents informed. EHS TELEMED makes healthcare for children more convenient and accessible, avoids
delays in treatment, and enhances learning by decreasing absenteeism.
EHS has partnered with Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, which has launched telemedicine programs in over 100 schools
across the state. Mrs. Baker-Witt says, “I can’t say enough good things about our partnership with the Board of Education. It is
clear that telemedicine will play a major role in the future of medical care and we are leading the way here in Effingham.” Expect
further growth of the program in Effingham’s public schools.
Pediatrics Win-Win
Pediatrics is one community need that arose from employees at a CEO forum. Mrs. Baker-Witt listened and recruited Bailey
Alford, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician in the fall of 2017. After Dr. Bailey’s first year treating young patients in Guyton
and Springfield, Mrs. Baker-Witt says, “The addition of a pediatrician continues to be a big win for us. Dr. Alford is in
partnership with our telemedicine program and our pediatric services have grown significantly. We hope to consolidate her
practice and our pediatrics program in 2019-2020 by creating a physical place for Dr Alford to call her own.”
Block Party & Health Fair
Effingham Health System kicked of its 50th Jubilee year celebration with a first-of-its-kind health fair and block party this
past November. Medical professionals from every department in the hospital were on hand, giving free health screenings such as
vision tests and blood pressure assessments. The fun event provided an opportunity for patients to connect with EHS staff, ask
questions, and learn about new services the healthcare system provides.
What’s New for 2019
The transformation continues into 2019. EHS will be building and expanding as dictated by the needs of the community, says
Fran Baker- Witt. She says,” We are positioning Effingham Health System to be competitive and strong. Providing the best
possible health care—close to home.
All of us, from the Board to the staff level, embrace innovation and continually strive to improve access, improve quality, and
improve the patient’sexperience.”
She continues," EHS is expanding access to providers for the Cancer Care Center as well as recruiting specialists in
orthopedics, vascular and urology." She explains, “We connect with specialty networks to ensure our community receives the
best possible care without having to drive to Savannah. This year we are also looking at expansion with our health partnerships
and venturing into other service areas such as mental health, behavioral health, and cardio care, to meet the needs of our
community.”
Mrs.Baker-Witt says, “For EHS, it’s building the confidence of the community in our ability to provide important services
close to home. When I first came here, I noticed that culturally, in the EHS environment, there was no valuing the organization.
An environment of transparency did not exist. I feel my strength is that the board has grown to appreciate me as a
transformational leader who believes in transparency. Transparency in turn lends itself to respect and trust. This is our
commitment to the right care at the right time.”